NAGANO, Japan -- It's the same old story for American bobsled, only the details change.
This time blame it on pilot error. No need to send the safety inspectors to retrieve the black box.
Once again Brian Shimer came close to an Olympic medal in the four-man bobsled. He had the medal in his hands and was memorizing the fine print when he forgot to drive the sled through the end of the run Saturday.
"My team put me in a position to win, I just didn't do it," said a distraught Shimer after his sled finished fifth, two-hundreths of a second out of a medal. "I don't know what happened. It's nobody else's fault other than mine. Every guy on that sled did his job and I didn't have my best race."
When he finished the race and saw he had just missed a medal again, a disgusted Shimer tore off his crash helmet and threw it to the ground.
Even though Shimer's sled consistently had the best starts, by the time the sled got to the bottom of the Spiral run it was behind. The USA-1 sled had the best time through the first five intervals in Saturday's crucial last race, but it still was fourth to the bottom of the hill.
"The only way that could have happened is somebody put the brakes on in curve 13," Shimer said. "But all three trips were like that. To lose that much time you have to do something really wrong, really bad.
"You never know how bad it hurts until it happens to you," Shimer said.
"I don't know why we were losing a tenth, two-tenths, on the last two splits on every turn. I knew I had some mistakes but I know everybody else did as well. It's a very difficult track. Why it cost us so much time I don't know."
This was the closest the U.S. bobsled team has come to ending a 42-year medal drought. They also had a chance in the 1988 Olympics, but faded in the stretch.
The German team piloted by Christoph Langen took the gold medal in a combined time of 2:39.41. The Swiss team headed by Marcel Rohner was second in 2:40.01. There was a tie for third between Great Britain and France at 2:40.06. Shimer's sled finished at 2:40.08.
The U.S. No. 2 sled, driven by Jim Herberich finished 12th.
The competition was shortened from four runs to three because rain washed out one run Friday.
At the end of two runs, Shimer's sled was tied with Great Britain for third, with the French in sixth. And even though France had the ninth best start in the last run, they ended with the best time of the final run.
Shimer called this race his biggest Olympic disappointment.
"When you go off the top of the hill with that kind of start there's no doubt you should win a medal," said Shimer, 35.
The bobsled team has done well in World Cup races this season, but seems to fall apart at the Olympics. Four years ago in Lillehammer the team started using Bo-Dyn sleds designed by the team of NASCAR racer Geoff Bodine. They were supposed to be the most technologically advanced sleds in the world, but the best the U.S. team could manage was 13th in the two-man and 15th in the four-man. Shimer's sled was disqualified in the four-man when the temperature of the sled runners was too hot.
The bobsledders later said they had not had enough time to get comfortable with the sleds. This year, they said, would be different. They did well in World Cup competition, and several months ago started talking about how they would finally win medals this Olympics, once they got the powerhouse European teams out of their familiar surroundings.
This time they got tripped up by two countries who generally do even worse in bobsled than the United States. This was France's first bobsled medal ever and the first four-man medal for Great Brittain since 1936.
Afterward, while the British team gulped champagne at the finish line, Shimer and Herberich tried to figure out what went so horribly wrong. Herberich, 34, even talked about retiring.
"I'm leaning a little bit toward coming back," he said. "But 5-6 months on the road is tough, and I'm getting a little old for that. Next year is a long time from now."
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